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N.Y. Regents Question Evaluation-Scoring Model, Offer Flexibility

Some New York teachers will get to appeal part of their teacher-evaluation rating, at least temporarily, under new regulations approved by the New York State Board of Regents this week.

The 165-page set of regulations conform with changes in state law requiring student test-score growth to count for 50 percent of teachers' annual ratings, up from 20 percent under previous rules. The new appeals process comes as a sign that the board is not entirely comfortable with how the state calculates teacher "growth scores" or how much weight is being placed on them. 

The changes were made in a budget law earlier this year championed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who was dissatisfied with of the uniformly high rankings teachers were receiving under districts' existing evaluation systems.

As outlined in the newly approved regulations, student-performance growth scores (variously defined depending on whether or not teachers are in tested subjects) will count for 50 percent of a teacher's final rating this year. The remainder of the rating will come from a composite score based on two classrooms observations—one by a principal or administrator and one by an "independent trained evaluator." (A third, optional observation by a peer teacher is also permitted.)

But even as the regulations incorporate the increased weight of student test scores in evaluations, the board notes in a summary section that "the Department has decided to reexamine the State growth model, which will take additional time."

During that period, under the regulations, some teachers who get an "ineffective" rating will be permitted to appeal their growth scores. To be eligible to make an appeal, a teacher must be ranked "highly effective" on the observation portion of the evaluation, and must have had either an "effective" or "highly effective" rating on his or her growth score in the previous year.

In a radio interview broadcast earlier this week, as reported by Chalkbeat, the Chancellor of the Regents, Merryl Tisch, offered some additional details, indicating that the board is "moving to put in place a panel of people who can allow a teacher to appeal rating, which I think is a very appropriate think to do."

Tisch also mentioned that she is sympathetic to Sheri Lederman, the 4th grade teacher in Great Neck, N.Y., who is suing the state education department over what she sees as inconsistencies in her 2014 evaluation rating stemming from the way her test-score growth was calculated.

"[Lederman's situation] disturbs me greatly," Tisch said (via Chalkbeat). "One of the reasons we're putting in place this appeals process is to deal with those kinds of abberations."

Tisch said she wanted to move forward with the regulations to give districts the guidance they need under the new law, but also afford teachers a measure of protection.  

According the Politics on the Hudson, a New York political news blog, the Regents also voted this week to write a letter to Gov. Cuomo  expressing their concerns about the evaluation system, including (in the words of one board member) a "lack of confidence in the current growth model."

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew offered tempered praise for amended regulations. The appeals process and other changes, he said, "are important steps in the right direction, particularly in terms of addressing the inequities that the current growth score model produces for teachers at both the high and the low end of the student-performance spectrum."

He added, however, that "much more needs to be done to create an accurate and effective evaluation system for teachers across New York State."

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